Ask any horseman and they will tell you the character building benefits to a child who becomes a horseman over flow the feed bucket. The character building benefits your child will gain partially depends on how you approach their horsemanship education.  Approach with the goal of becoming a star and winning blue ribbons and you’ve reduced your feed bucket to a single serving scoop of vitamins. Find the right program and follow through, and you’ve opened the door to the feed room.

Find the Right Program

The right program will be one that teaches the correct foundation for riding and horse care skills. Your child will not only be offered time in the saddle, they will be offered time on the ground learning about horses. The size of a program isn’t important but the content is. Choosing a beginner’s program takes research.  Don’t make convenience or price your determining factor. Choose an instructor based on the program they offer.

Don’t over look the small barn because they don’t seem to be big and prosperous. Beginners are time consuming and if a program has a single instructor she will not take on as many students as the barn with several instructors. A small boutique program can be just as thorough as the large program. But at the same time don’t over look the big barns thinking they are too advanced for your beginner. Unless the barn only specializes in upper level riders or competitors, any big barn owner knows that the beginner program feeds potential into the top. No matter the size of the stable a good beginner’s program will be heavy with beginner students.

Have the Right Attitude- Don’t Don’t Don’t

If the parent approaches riding lesson program with the correct attitude chances are that the student will have, and keep, a good attitude as well. If your reason for choosing has anything to do with impressing anyone or keeping up with what someone else does, don’t bother. And don’t bother if your goal is to see if your child likes horses and riding. And don’t put your child in lessons just because you always wanted to ride as a kid. If your child isn’t craving and hounding you for lessons or a horse you’re probably getting ready to throw your money away.

The real effort in lessons will come from your child, so make sure they are motivated. And if you view riding lessons as an activity, seasonal or otherwise, that will round out your child’s life experiences, choose a temporary program such as a regular summer camp that also includes horses. Good riding instructors aren’t interested in only giving your child a life experience, as if it was bring your child to work day. The best riding instructors commit to your student with a long term plan.

Parental Commitment

Be ready for financial commitment. Riding lessons are expensive and there are particular pieces of required equipment that also cost lots of money. You wouldn’t send your foot ball player into a game without a helmet, and you wouldn’t send your soccer player into the field without the correct footwear. Don’t ask your child to learn to ride without the correct riding equipment.

Prepare for the time commitment. There is a saying that tells us if you want to make something a habit do it every day for 30 days. Think about that for a minute. If you want to tone your body and build muscle you have to work at it regularly. A child taking one riding lesson a week is just getting a taste of horses.  You must at least commit to making sure they get that taste every week.  If you really want to give your child a good start with horses sign up for two lessons a week. Space them far enough apart to allow muscles to heal and strengthen. This gives your child the opportunity to develop muscle and mental memory. Children that ride twice a week develop their skill three times faster than ones who ride only once a week. Keep your appointments.

Also be ready to comprehend how difficult it is to learn to ride a horse. Years ago one of my daughters took violin lessons.  We committed to a year and during that time I was required to take a certain number of lessons so I could understand what my child went through. It was enlightening.

Understand It’s Not Just a Sport

One of the things that sets character building horsemanship and riding apart from every other sport or activity is that horsemanship is an education. Not only will your student learn skills and the rules of the game, they’ll learn about another life that is dependent upon humans for its well being. They’ll learn to problem solve and will increase their communications skills. And they’ll learn theory, history and science, as well as developing skills that are useful for life both now and in the future.

Follow a Plan

Most riders need a minimum of a year’s worth of lessons before they are qualified to take on the responsibility of a horse. During that year your child should partake in other horse activities within the program. Look in advance for a program that offers horse leases to qualified students. A half lease can be the ideal way to begin the horse ownership experience. Sometimes you can move into full lease before purchasing a horse for your child. And when it comes to purchasing, listen to the professional you trust regarding timing and type. Horse ownership is a big commitment. It means more money and more time. A wise parent will not purchase a horse until their student is ready to handle the majority of the responsibility under the guidance of a professional. Don’t be foolish and purchase too soon, or you run the risk of earning more work for yourself.

It’s Worth the Time and Effort

Character building is worth the time and effort it takes to find a good horsemanship program for your child. A little research up front can save a lot of disappointment later. Look for a program that can satisfy the needs of a budding horse lover for several years and stick with it until your child is fairly independent with the horse. Consider an instructor who has horse ownership as a goal for your child as opposed to showing and winning ribbons.  While showing is part of many rider’s good experiences it should never be the end game.  An instructor who hopes your child will own a horse one day will teach more horsemanship and less mechanical show ring tricks resulting in a deeper education for your child. The deeper education can keep your rider active and enjoying horses on the trail or in the show ring for their entire life.

How about you? What’s your definition of a character building horsemanship program?

Happy spring and happy teaching,

Barbara Ellin Fox


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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
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